Herbal supplements while on chemotherapy

Ellen Sweeney, RD
Last Modified: December 30, 2001


Can you take any type of herbal supplements while on chemotherapy? Is it okay to take Moducare through chemotherapy? My daughter is 23 years old and is taking chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease.


Ellen Sweeney, RD, Clinical Nutrition Specialist at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania responds;

Because there is so little valid research on the interactions between herbal supplements and chemo, we (oncologists and dietitians) do not recommend any herbal type supplements at all during treatment. Many herbs can act as blood thinners and antioxidants for example, which would be contraindicated during chemotherapy.

Another concern is that since herbal supplements are not regulated at all in the U.S., their purity, quality, and standardization is highly questionable, not to mention the 'cancer cure' claims they sometimes make when there is no quality research to substantiate it.

Moducare is one of these supplements. The company that makes it claims that it has researched its immune stimulating effects. The company has done some limited, seemingly valid research (not in the U.S. however) on its immune stimulating effects in AIDS and prostate problems, but no significant research with cancer. Taking any of these 'immune enhancing' supplements is not advised because of the lack of valid research to support its use, its effectiveness, and its safety.

The most immune enhancing effects have been seen with a diet, not supplements, that is high in fruits and vegetables (7-9 servings per day). The only supplement that is recommended during treatment is a standard (Centrum type) multivitamin/mineral. If you have further questions on supplements, including herbals, ask an oncology dietitian, if one is available where your daughter is being treated.